Those that are already expert at their craft

Selected from http://www.delanceyplace.com

In today’s excerpt – for those who are already expert at their craft, there are perils to rushing or overrehearsing. Here Paul Shaffer frantically tries to reach Sammy Davis, Jr., to select a song and schedule rehearsal before his appearance on the David Letterman show:

“Every time I called [Sammy Davis, Jr., to try and select a song or discuss rehearsal], he was either working or sleeping. He never did return my calls.

The morning of the show I was feeling some panic. Sammy was flying in, and we still didn’t know what he wanted to sing. At 10 a.m., the floor manager said I had a backstage call. It was Sammy calling from the plane.

‘ ‘Once in My Life’ will be fine, Paul,’ he said. ‘Key of E going into F.’

‘Great!’ I was relieved.

I was also eager to work out an arrangement. We whipped up a chart, nursed it, rehearsed it, and put it on tape. That way when Sammy arrived, he could hear it.

Then another backstage call. Sammy’s plane had landed early, and he was on his way over. When I greeted him at the backstage door with a big ‘We’re thrilled you’re here,’ I was a little taken aback. He looked extremely tired and frail. He walked with a cane.

‘We have an arrangement, Sam. You can rehearse it with the band.’

‘No need, baby. Gotta conserve my energy. I’m just gonna go to my room and shower.’

‘I wanna make it easy for you. So I’ll just play you a tape of the arrangement on the boom box. That way you’ll hear what we’ve done and tell me if it’s okay.’

‘Man, I know the song.’

‘I know, Sam,’ I said, ‘but what if you don’t like the chart?’

‘I’ll like it, I’ll like it.’

‘But what if the key’s not right?’

‘Okay, if you insist.’

I slipped the cassette in the boom box and hit ‘play.’ To my ears, the chart sounded great. Sammy closed his eyes and, in Sammy style, nodded his head up and down to the groove. He smiled.

‘It’s swinging, man,’ he said, ‘but think of how much more fun we could have had if I hadn’t heard this tape.’

His words still resonate in my ears; the notion still haunts me. Sammy swung that night, but as he was performing, I couldn’t help thinking that his carefree feeling about time – as opposed to my lifelong notion of the pressure of the time – was coming from a higher spiritual plane. As a musician, I’ve always thought I rushed. I still think I rush. The great players never rush.

It reminds me of that moment when I watched Ray Charles turn to his guitarist, just as the young guy was about to solo, and say, ‘Take your time, son. Take your time.’ ”

Paul Shaffer, We’ll Be Here for the Rest of Our Lives, Flying Dolphin Press, Copyright 2009 by Paul Shaffer Enterprises, Inc., pp. 234-235.

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Published in: on December 21, 2009 at 2:09 pm  Comments (1)  
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The Bi-Partisan Senate

Franken v. Lieberman… This confrontation on the floor of the Senate occurred yesterday. McCain was aghast at what Franken did to poor Lieberman 😦 Here is the complete scene in all its glory, with an excellent explanation from a Young Turk.

Published in: on December 18, 2009 at 2:15 pm  Comments (2)  
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“A Peoples History of the United States’….Howard Zinn

Zinn’s ‘People’s History’ Masterwork Hits the History Channel

Howard Zinn’s Webpage….all about the production of “The People Speak” Click for the link

By Dave Zirin, AlterNet
Posted on December 11, 2009, Printed on December 17, 2009
http://www.alternet.org/story/144486/

On December 13th, a date I’ve basically had tattooed on my arm like the guy from Memento, The People Speak finally makes its debut on the History Channel. This is more than just must-see-TV. It is nothing less than the life’s work of “people’s historian” Howard Zinn brought to life by some of the most talented actors, musicians, and poets in the country. Howard Zinn and his partner Anthony Arnove chose the most stirring political passages in Zinn’s classic A People’s History of the United States, creating a written anthology called Voices of a People’s History of the United States. Those “voices” have now been fully resurrected by a collection of performers ranging from Matt Damon to hip hop artist Lupe Fiasco to poet Staceyann Chin.

The People Speak also showcases John Legend reading the words of Muhammad Ali, Kerry Washington as Sojourner Truth, David Strathairn’s take on the soaring oratory of Eugene Debs, and Morgan Freeman as Frederick Douglass asking, “What is the 4th of July to the American Slave?” There are also the words of women factory workers read by Marisa Tomei, rebellious farmers personified by Viggo Mortensen, and escaped slaves voiced by Benjamin Bratt.

Certainly the lunatic right will howl to the heavens after seeing “liberal Hollywood” perform the words of labor radicals, anti-racists, feminists, and socialists. In fact, aided by the craven Matt Drudge, they are already in full froth, campaigning online to get the History Channel to drop The People Speak before its air-date. If it weren’t so contemptible, their actions would be almost quaint, like a virtual book burning.

But beneath the bombast, their hostile aversion “a people’s history” speaks volumes about why we need to support this project. This is a country dedicated to historical amnesia. Our radical past holds dangers for both those in power and those threatened by progressive change. We need to rescue the great battles for social justice from becoming either co-opted or simply erased from the history books. Our children don’t learn about the people who made the Civil Rights movement. Instead we get Dr. Martin Luther King on a McDonald’s commemorative cup. Because of our country’s organized ignorance, endless hours are wasted in every generation reinventing the wheel and relearning lessons already taught.

One reason Barack Obama made so many of us feel “hopey” during the 2008 election season is that he seemed to understand and even take inspiration from our “people’s history.” Candidate Obama would invoke the odysseys of abolitionists, suffragettes, freedom riders, and Stonewall rioters. He linked his campaign to this history with a slogan from today’s immigrant rights and union struggles: Si Se Puede, Yes We Can.

And yet this Presidency in practice has been like watching George W. Bush with a working cerebellum. Send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan? Say nothing in the face of racist rallies held outside the capitol? Tell LGBT people to shut up and wait for their civil rights? All in a year’s work. The Obama administration is now counting upon the American people, to once again, quietly go with the flow all while pretending we never saw this movie before. This is why The People Speak matters. It’s aimed at reclaiming our hallowed history from all who would profane it: to resurrect our past as a guide to fight for the future.

There are those who will wrongly see The People Speak as a kind of “spoonful of sugar” approach to education. Get a celebrity to recite the words of Susan B. Anthony and all of a sudden, we’ll all want to be history buffs. But this isn’t Hollywood “slumming” in the land of radical chic. It is instead a bracing spectacle where our sacred history is reimagined by performance artists of tremendous craft. Consider the dramatic task at hand: they are attempting nothing less than turning politics into art. If Zinn and co-producers Arnove, Damon, Josh Brolin and Chris Moore pull this off, it holds the potential to introduce a new generation to Sojourner Truth, Eugene Debs, and perhaps most importantly of all, to the works of Howard Zinn.

As Zinn himself once said, “Knowing history is less about understanding the past than changing the future.” This is the grand adventure of Howard Zinn’s life. I encourage everyone to come along for the ride. Get your friends and family together on Sunday night and experience The People Speak. Then take them by the hand and pledge to be heard.

Dave Zirin is the author of “What’s My Name Fool? Sports and Resistance in the United States.” Read more of his work at Edgeofsports.com.

© 2009 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/144486/

Published in: on December 17, 2009 at 9:07 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Battle of the Bulge, Kurt Vonnegut, and Slaughterhouse-Five

Selected from Garrison Keillor’s “The Writer’s Almanac” at  http://writersalmanac.publicradio.org  …

It was on this day in 1944 that the Battle of the Bulge began. It took place in the Ardennes forest, a snowy mountainous region of Belgium, France, and Luxembourg and lasted for more than a month. It was the last major German offensive, and it was the bloodiest battle of World War II for Americans troops. While estimates about the number of American casualties differ, the U.S. Defense Department lists 19,000 killed, 47,500 wounded, and 23,000 missing.

Among those taken as prisoner of war by the Germans was a young infantry scout named Kurt Vonnegut. (books by this author) He’d only been in the front lines for five days when he got trapped behind enemy lines and taken prisoner. Within a month, he was sent over to Dresden and put to work in a factory producing vitamin-enriched malt syrup for pregnant women. He and his fellow American prisoners were detained in and slept at an underground warehouse in Dresden that had been a meat-packing facility and storage locker before the war. The building was marked “Schlachthof-fünf”: “Slaughterhouse-Five.”

Then, in February 1945, about two months after the Battle of the Bulge began, British and American forces started firebombing Dresden. The firestorm created by the massive Allied bombings killed nearly all of Dresden’s residents, but Vonnegut and other POWs survived because they were three stories underground, in that meat-storage locker.

Vonnegut published his novel Slaughterhouse-Five in 1969, a quarter century after he was captured at the Battle of the Bulge and a witness to the Dresden firebombing. In it, he wrote:

“It is so short and jumbled and jangled, Sam, because there is nothing intelligent to say about a massacre. Everybody is supposed to be dead, to never say anything or want anything ever again. Everything is supposed to be very quiet after a massacre, and it always is, except for the birds.

And what do the birds say? All there is to say about a massacre, things like “Poo-tee-weet?”

The Battle of the Bulge ended on January 25, 1945, after Hitler agreed to withdraw German troops from the Ardennes forest. Less than two weeks later, Allied leaders met at Yalta to discuss occupying post-war Germany.

Published in: on December 17, 2009 at 3:02 pm  Comments (1)  
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How the football huddle was invented

Selected from http://www.delanceyplace.com 12-17-09

In today’s encore excerpt – the football huddle is invented at a college for the deaf – Gallaudet University in Washington, DC – as a means of hiding signals from other deaf teams. It is institutionalized at the University of Chicago as a means of bringing control and Christian fellowship to the game:

“When Gallaudet played nondeaf clubs or schools, Hubbard merely used hand signals – American Sign Language – to call a play at the line of scrimmage, imitating what was done in football from Harvard to Michigan. Both teams approached the line of scrimmage. The signal caller – whether it was the left halfback or quarterback – barked out the plays at the line of scrimmage. Nothing was hidden from the defense. There was no huddle.

“Hand signals against nondeaf schools gave Gallaudet an advantage. But other deaf schools could read [quarterback Paul] Hubbard’s sign language. So, beginning in 1894, Hubbard came up with a plan. He decided to conceal the signals by gathering his offensive players in a huddle prior to the snap of the ball. … Hubbard’s innovation in 1894 worked brilliantly. ‘From that point on, the huddle became a habit during regular season games,’ cites a school history of the football program. …

“In 1896, the huddle started showing up on other college campuses, particularly the University of Georgia and the University of Chicago. At Chicago, it was Amos Alonzo Stagg, the man credited with nurturing American football into the modern age and barnstorming across the country to sell the game, who popularized the use of the huddle and made the best case for it. …

“At the time, coaches were not permitted to send in plays from the sideline. So, while Stagg clearly understood the benefit of concealing the signals from the opposition, he was more interested in the huddle as a way of introducing far more reaching reforms to the game. Before becoming a coach, Stagg wanted to be a minister. At Yale, he was a divinity student from 1885 to 1889.

“Thoughtful, pious, and righteous, Stagg brought innovations football as an attempt to bring a Christian fellowship to the game. He wanted his players to play under control, to control the pace, the course, and the conduct of what had been a game of mass movement that often broke out into fisticuffs. Stagg viewed the huddle as a vital aspect of helping to teach sportsmanship. He viewed the huddle as a kind of religious congregation on the field, a place where the players could, if you will, minister to each other, make a plan, and promise to keep faith in that plan and one another.”

Published in: on December 17, 2009 at 11:56 am  Leave a Comment  
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General Washington was not very good at military strategy

Selected from http://www.delanceyplace.com 12-14-09

In today’s excerpt – General George Washington, though indispensable to the cause of the American Revolution and a supremely gifted leader, showed poor instincts for military strategy throughout the revolutionary war. When the time came for the final decisive battle of in Yorktown, Virginia – the battle that ended the war – Washington’s strong preference was to try and retake Manhattan from the British instead. However, the French general who had just been sent to serve under him, the seasoned military strategist Comte de Rochambeau – whose government was strained financially and highly eager to end the war – maneuvered things to insure that Washington’s army went to Yorktown instead:

“When Washington and Rochambeau met in May 1781 in Weathersfield, Connecticut, to plan that year’s last-ditch campaign, they knew few of [American General Nathaniel] Greene’s successful activities and nothing of [British General] Cornwallis’s decision to march his army into Virginia. Once the pleasantries – a military parade and formal dinner – were out of the way, the two generals and their staffs sat down to talk. The discussions were frank and at times heated. After revealing the financial gift that his country was making to its allies, Rochambeau asked Washington what operations he envisioned for the coming summer. To one’s surprise [given his war-long obsession with retaking Manhattan], Washington urged a campaign to take New York, claiming that Clinton, [the British general in New York] was weaker than ever, having sent raiders to Virginia and reinforcements to the Carolinas.

“Losing his patience – a French observer later said that Rochambeau treated Washington with ‘all the ungraciousness and all the unpleasantness possible’ – the French commander earnestly reiterated his objections to focusing on New York. He then proposed a campaign in Virginia. Though unaware of Cornwallis’s epic decision [to march north to Virginia], Rochambeau knew there was a British army of roughly thirty-five hundred men in Virginia. The allies would have numerical superiority. If they could trap the enemy force, the long-awaited victory that could break Great Britain’s will to continue might be achieved. But Washington was intransigent. The allies must focus on New York. Washington ‘did not conceive the affairs of the south to be such urgency,’ the French general subsequently recalled. Given that Rochambeau remained under orders from France to defer to the wishes of the American commander, he consented to march his army from Rhode Island to the periphery of Manhattan, where the allies would prepare for a joint operation to retake New York.

“Washington was delighted. He had prevailed, or so it seemed. The campaign for New York of which he had dreamed for three long years was imminent. After three days of talks, Washington bade farewell and rode back to the Hudson to await the arrival of the French army. But there was something that Rochambeau had not divulged. He had neglected to inform Washington that the French fleet in the Caribbean had been ordered to sail to North America that summer. Immediately following Washington’s departure from Weathersfield, Rochambeau sat down at his desk and drafted a crucial letter to the Comte de Grasse, commander of the French fleet. He did not ask him to sail to New York. Instead, Rochambeau urged de Grasse to bring the fleet to the Chesapeake. Unbeknownst to Washington, and in defiance of his wishes, Rochambeau was secretly planning what he believed would be a campaign that was more likely than an attack on New York to produce a decisive outcome. His object was to confront General Washington with a fait accompli.

“As the lush days of spring faded into high summer in 1781, three army commanders ruminated over strategy. Only Washington believed the allies could succeed in a campaign to take New York. Rochambeau and Clinton – both lifelong professional officers, were convinced that the redcoats, having had five long years to prepare for the defense of Manhattan and Long Island, could repulse anything the allies threw at them, even a joint land-sea siege and assault. Indeed, Clinton prayed that the allies would attack New York. If their campaign failed, as he was certain it would, the will to continue hostilities would surely evaporate in France and America. Great Britain would do very well at the peace conference that followed. In his wildest dreams, Clinton even imagined that Britain might win this war in the event of a failed allied campaign to take New York.”

[Washington yielded to Rochambeau, and the American army turned south and went to Virginia where it overwhelmingly defeated Cornwallis and ended the war.]

John Ferling, The Ascent of Washington, Bloomsbury, Copyright 2009 by John Ferling, pp. 209-211.

Published in: on December 14, 2009 at 1:54 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Most Violent City in the World

Selected from http://www.delanceyplace.com
12-11-09
In today’s excerpt – by the estimate of journalist Philip Caputo, the most violent city in the world is not located in Afghanistan, Iraq or some Sub-Saharan African country, but across a river from the United States in Juarez, Mexico. And in the almost three years since President Felipe Calderón launched a war on drug cartels, some 14,000 people have been killed in the country of Mexico, and part of the country is effectively under martial law:

“The U.S. government estimates that the cultivation and trafficking of illegal drugs directly employs 450,000 people in Mexico [out of 110 million people]. Unknown numbers of people, possibly in the millions, are indirectly linked to the drug industry, which has revenues estimated to be as high as $25 billion a year, exceeded only by Mexico’s annual income from manufacturing and oil exports. Dr. Edgardo Buscaglia … concluded in a recent report that 17 of Mexico’s 31 states have become virtual narco-republics, where organized crime has infiltrated government, the courts, and the police so extensively that there is almost no way they can be cleaned up. The drug gangs have acquired a ‘military capacity’ that enables them to confront the army on an almost equal footing. …

“Of the many things Mexico lacks these days, clarity is near the top of the list. It is dangerous to know the truth. Finding it is frustrating. Statements by U.S. and Mexican government officials, repeated by a news media that prefers simple story lines, have fostered the impression in the United States that the conflict in Mexico is between Calderón’s white hats and the crime syndicates’ black hats. The reality is far more complicated, as suggested by this statistic: out of those 14,000 dead, fewer than 100 have been soldiers. Presumably, army casualties would be far higher if the war were as straightforward as it’s often made out to be. …

“The toll includes more than 1,000 police officers, some of whom, according to Mexican press reports, were executed by soldiers for suspected links to drug traffickers. Conversely, a number of the fallen soldiers may have been killed by policemen moonlighting as cartel hit men, though that cannot be proved. Meanwhile, human-rights groups have accused the military of unleashing a reign of terror – carrying out forced disappearances, illegal detentions, acts of torture, and assassinations – not only to fight organized crime but also to suppress dissidents and other political troublemakers. What began as a war on drug trafficking has evolved into a low-intensity civil war with more than two sides and no white hats, only shades of black. The ordinary Mexican citizen – never sure who is on what side, or who is fighting whom and for what reason – retreats into a private world where he becomes willfully blind, deaf, and above all, dumb. …

“[The City of] Juárez’s main product now is the corpse. Last year, drug-related violence there claimed more than 1,600 lives, and the toll for the first nine months of this year soared beyond 1,800, and mounts daily. That makes Juárez, population 1.5 million, the most violent city in the world.”

Philip Caputo, “The Border of Madness,” The Atlantic, December 2009, pp. 63-69.

Published in: on December 13, 2009 at 11:44 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Da vinci notebook sells for over $5 milion

On this day in 1980, American oil tycoon Armand Hammer pays $5,126,000 at auction for a notebook containing writings by the legendary artist Leonardo da Vinci.
The manuscript, written around 1508, was one of some 30 similar books da Vinci produced during his lifetime on a variety of subjects. It contained 72 loose pages featuring some 300 notes and detailed drawings, all relating to the common theme of water and how it moved. Experts have said that da Vinci drew on it to paint the background of his masterwork, the Mona Lisa. The text, written in brown ink and chalk, read from right to left, an example of da Vinci’s favored mirror-writing technique. The painter Giuseppi Ghezzi discovered the notebook in 1690 in a chest of papers belonging to Guglielmo della Porto, a 16th-century Milanese sculptor who had studied Leonardo’s work. In 1717, Thomas Coke, the first earl of Leicester, bought the manuscript and installed it among his impressive collection of art at his family estate in England.
More than two centuries later, the notebook–by now known as the Leicester Codex–showed up on the auction block at Christie’s in London when the current Lord Coke was forced to sell it to cover inheritance taxes on the estate and art collection. In the days before the sale, art experts and the press speculated that the notebook would go for $7 to $20 million. In fact, the bidding started at $1.4 million and lasted less than two minutes, as Hammer and at least two or three other bidders competed to raise the price $100,000 at a time. The $5.12 million price tag was the highest ever paid for a manuscript at that time; a copy of the legendary Gutenberg Bible had gone for only $2 million in 1978. “I’m very happy with the price. I expected to pay more,” Hammer said later. “There is no work of art in the world I wanted more than this.” Lord Coke, on the other hand, was only “reasonably happy” with the sale; he claimed the proceeds would not be sufficient to cover the taxes he owed.
Hammer, the president of Occidental Petroleum Corporation, renamed his prize the Hammer Codex and added it to his valuable collection of art. When Hammer died in 1990, he left the notebook and other works to the Armand Hammer Museum of Art and Cultural Center at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA). Several years later, the museum offered the manuscript for sale, claiming it was forced to take this action to cover legal costs incurred when the niece and sole heir of Hammer’s late wife, Frances, sued the estate claiming Hammer had cheated Frances out of her rightful share of his fortune. On November 11, 1994, the Hammer Codex was sold to an anonymous bidder–soon identified as Bill Gates, the billionaire founder of Microsoft–at a New York auction for a new record high price of $30.8 million. Gates restored the title of Leicester Codex and has since loaned the manuscript to a number of museums for public display.

Published in: on December 12, 2009 at 6:14 pm  Leave a Comment  
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